Opus Foundation® Awards $38,000 to Support iMentor Chicago’s College-Success Program

​Since the Opus Foundation® was founded in 2000, it has awarded nearly $43 million to nonprofit organizations that make our communities better places to work, live and raise families. We place priority on providing grants to organizations our associates support personally through volunteering and charitable giving. One of those organizations is iMentor Chicago.

Partnering with Public Schools to Help Low-Income Students

I learned about iMentor through Chicago Reach, another organization in which I was involved. iMentor is changing lives, and I'm truly grateful to be a part of a company like Opus that supports nonprofits and causes that are important to its associates.

The Opus Foundation recently awarded iMentor Chicago with a $38,000 Impact Fund grant to expand their post-secondary education program, which helps students graduate high school and navigate the challenges involved with post-secondary education including enrolling, getting accepted and completing. It is a continuation of support from the Opus Foundation, which gave iMentor Chicago a $35,000 Impact Fund grant in 2018 for the post-secondary program.

Since opening its doors in 2015, iMentor Chicago has partnered with Chicago Public Schools to help 1,365 students from the lowest-income neighborhoods of the city. 78% of participants in the program will be the first in their family to pursue post-secondary education. iMentor is seeing impressive results – in 2018:

  • 66% of iMentor Chicago students enrolled in college, up from 51% the previous year
  • 38% of those who enrolled chose a college or university program, compared to 24% in 2017
“In Chicago, location matters," said Jason Friedman, Executive Director of iMentor Chicago. “We are very intentional about focusing on communities where we can make the largest impact, like the South and West sides of Chicago, where there is the most need."

Offering Strong Mentoring Relationships to Build Towards College Success

iMentor Chicago offers a three-year mentoring model that builds strong relationships by matching high school juniors with an adult mentor. Mentors are college-educated and provide guidance to students enrolled in iMentor's college-preparatory curriculum led by iMentor program managers in coordination with Chicago Public Schools' teachers and staff.

I serve as one of those mentors. Like all mentors, I have committed to volunteering a minimum of three years and was assigned a student mentee. Through weekly online communication and monthly in-person meetings at the high school, mentors help students with assignments, review lessons and provide general guidance for progressing in school. As part of the post-secondary program, mentors and the iMentor staff help students with everything from researching colleges, to ACT/SAT preparations, filling out college applications, writing entrance essays and finding, applying for and managing the student loan process. 

The college onboarding process, from standardized testing to arriving on campus the first day, can be a daunting process even for someone with a stable upbringing and two supportive, college-educated parents. Without the roadmap to college that iMentor provides, it's extremely difficult for these kids to get the support needed to continue their education. It's incredibly rewarding to be part of the important work iMentor is doing.  

Enhancing the Program with Opus Foundation's Support

The grant will support enhancements to iMentor's post-secondary program, including but not limited to, a summer student program that includes weekly advising sessions and monthly required workshops, peer-to-peer support group programming and creation of an emergency fund to cover nominal expenses that can often impede students' continued persistence.

iMentor has only just begun to make an impact on Chicago. Over the next four years, the organization plans to double the number of Chicago Public Schools served from four to eight, tripling the number of students served from 1,365 to 3,614.

“I've worked in nonprofit leadership for over a decade," said Friedman. “There seems to be a movement afoot in corporate philanthropy – and it's helping us achieve our goals. Instead of being purely transactional in nature, as in cutting checks, companies like Opus are becoming more strategic and thoughtful about how they impact the community. Opus asks great questions and wants to know what our goals are, what lessons we've learned and what trends and risks we see on the horizon. They are a leader in that respect. So, in addition to supporting us financially, Opus is helping to position us for success."

The Opus Foundation is building community for a better tomorrow by supporting projects and programs that make our communities better places to live, work and raise families through grants to nonprofit organizations in the areas of early childhood education, youth development, workforce development, community revitalization and pressing/emerging needs. Read more about the Foundation's work.